Posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2011 by Germain Lussier
Moneyball is a baseball movie, an underdog tale, a true story and a Brad Pitt vehicle. But more than any of those things, Moneyball is a character study about what it’s like to stand up against everyone and everything because you have faith in an idea.
In 2001, the Oakland Athletics, with a payroll of about $40 million – almost a third of the ultra-rich New York Yankees – made the playoffs. The next year, three of their marquee players were poached by other teams for bigger contracts and, with little money and few resources, general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) was forced to embrace a whole new way of looking at baseball to stay competitive.
Directed by Bennett Miller, who directed Philip Seymour Hoffman (also in this movie) to an Oscar in Capote, Moneyball plays like an exciting fantasy baseball draft if everyone was in on the intricacies but, at its heart, it’s really about the struggle of being different. And that’s something we can all relate to.
Based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name (he also wrote The Blind Side, which, like his book Moneyball, also differs greatly from its film adaptation), Moneyball is the story of how the 2002 Oakland Athletics decided to go against hundreds of years of baseball tradition by embracing, on a professional level, sabermetrics. This is the belief that the only thing that matters in baseball are base runners. A walk is as good as a hit, giving up an out for a base runner is pointless and a long, long list of other things.
To describe this, the screenplay – co-written by Oscar-winners Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian – is very talky. There’s also not as much baseball as one would expect, opting instead for boardroom meetings about statistics and sit downs in living rooms. This is juxtaposed with Beane’s backstory story, both as a young aspiring baseball player and as a divorced father of one.
However, while this is a true story about sports, it doesn’t harp on the stats or traditional sports movie moments. Instead Beane’s reaction to these things and how it affects his life is paramount and Pitt conveys this by delivering performance that’s both confident and heartfelt. His partner-in-crime, Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, is similarly impressive – stoic, but funny in his innocence and passion. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as manager Art Howe, also does a solid job but he – much like Hill’s character – gets short changed. Make no mistake about it, this is the Brad Pitt show.
From a purely baseball perspective, Moneyball does some interesting things too, specifically using a lot of actual footage of the games instead of recreations. However, while Miller’s film makes it seems like the A’s were hopeless when they lost their 2001 superstars, it fails to mention several other mega superstars that were still on the team as well as the new players the film focuses on. That slight ignorance of the truth works because this is a movie but, much in the way Sorkin’s Oscar-winning film The Social Network was probably half right, its not-so-obvious manipulation is a little tough to swallow if you know the facts.
In the end, though, Moneyball is about more than the players, the stats or the game itself. It’s about the strength it takes to stand up and do something you believe in when everyone says you can’t. And Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller show you that again and again. Moneyball isn’t quite a home run, but it’s an awesome triple off the wall.
/Film Rating – 8 out of 10